Judging by their recent combative media push, All Aboard Florida (AAF) must really be worried about the possibility of having to publicly address the safety and financial concerns so many of us have expressed.
First it was an op-ed full of half-truths and threats in the Sun Sentinel from AAF President Mike Reininger. Then a Sunshine State News column by Ed Dean suggesting legislation to ensure public safety is somehow a political, not a safety, issue.
Thanks to AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies paid by taxpayers, high speed rail could soon become a reality in Florida. The High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act (SB 386) legislation Sen. Debbie Mayfield has proposed this session ensures that any introduction of this new form of transportation is done with the highest regard for public safety, and consideration for the existing challenges with rail lines that Floridians deal with on a daily basis.
While AAF waxes on about supposed environmental and traffic-related benefits tied to high speed rail, they have consistently failed to answer the public safety challenges that already exist in the FEC rail system they depend upon, and the burden so many additional trains traveling at faster speeds would bring to the community.
AAF treats NIMBY like it’s a four-letter word as it disregards the challenges already facing our communities. In the Treasure Coast, the proposed AAF project would send an additional 32 passenger trains a day barreling through our pedestrian communities at speeds of up to 110 mph, and the current 14 freight trains per day would increase to 20 to 28 per day, according to their own plans. This increase in trains will lead to more traffic congestion as we continually have to wait for trains to pass, and will challenge the ability for emergency responders to quickly reach those in need. It will also put the many residents who must cross the tracks, multiple times per day, in cars, on bicycles and on foot at risk, along with thousands of children who ride the bus to and from school each day.
There are currently 79 at-grade rail crossings in the Treasure Coast region — nearly double the U.S. average. These issues are already a reality in our communities and will only be exacerbated by this significant increase in rail traffic. So what would happen if unregulated high speed rail is introduced without regard for the additional impact on public safety?
The truth is, Sen. Mayfield’s bill does nothing to “kill” AAF, unless AAF has not been truthful with the public. However, it does ensure that whenever and wherever high speed rail exists in our state, the appropriate safety technology and equipment will be in place to protect the public and that private rail companies will be responsible for paying for it. Yet rather than assume responsibility, AAF instead threatens to sue the state if this good public policy focused on protecting public safety is passed.
Senator Mayfield has been criticized for even mentioning AAF when she explains her bill, but as the only high speed rail project currently underway in our state, it is within reason that she references it when speaking about the merits of her proposed legislation. Not to mention AAF’s prioritization of profit over public safety demonstrates exactly why our communities need to be protected from high-speed rail projects like this.
Brent Hanlon is chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, and Martin County resident.
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